Associate Professor of Applied Psychology
Phone: (212) 998-5543
Most of my work seeks to understand and remediate race and gender gaps in educational achievement and standardized test performance. Often, the low performance of blacks in particular, but other minorities as well, gets casually chalked up to genetic or cultural differences that supposedly block acquisition of skills or values necessary for academic achievement. In sharp contrast, my students, colleagues, and I have uncovered some exciting and encouraging answers to these old questions by looking at the psychology of stigma - the way human beings respond to negative stereotypes about their racial or gender group. What we have found suggests that being targeted by well-known cultural stereotypes ("blacks are unintelligent", "girls can't do math", and so on) can be very threatening, a predicament my mentor and I called "Stereotype Threat." Stereotype threat engenders a number of interesting psychological and physiological responses, many of which interfere with intellectual performance and academic motivation. I have conducted numerous studies showing how stereotype threat depresses the standardized test performance of black, Latino, and female college students. These same studies showed how changing the testing situation (even subtly) to reduce stereotype threat, can dramatically improve standardized test scores. This work offers a far more optimistic view of race and gender gaps than the older theories that focused on poverty, culture, or genetic factors. We have found that we can do a lot to boost both achievement and the enjoyment of school by understanding and attending to these psychological processes, thereby unseating the power of stereotypes and prejudice to foil the academic aspirations of the young people who, just by virtue of being born black, brown, or female, are subjected to suspicions of inferiority.
A particular focus of my recent work is on creating scalable interventions that any teacher can use to imrove the performance and learning of their students.